Business Teacher Cindy Quaid — "Allow students to make errors so that they can learn"

Cindy Quaid is the Business & Technology Department Chair and the Future Business Leaders of America Adviser at Santa Maria High School in Santa Maria CA. This is her 30th year teaching at her high school alma mater.

What aspect of Budget Challenge do you find most beneficial to your students?

This curriculum has so many aspects to provide students with a great start on their own financial decisions.

What is the most difficult challenge for students participating in Budget Challenge?

I have noticed that students have difficulty understanding that they must juggle all aspects of their needs and wants and they must pay attention to how they can reduce their debt and how they can save for retirement.

The simulation does a great job of keeping the vendors separate with various due dates which keeps this simulation very realistic. At first, some of the students don't realize that bills and emails from vendors can come at all times of the day and that they can use their online banking features to schedule their payments. Once they grasp this concept, they become less overwhelmed. The other challenge is understanding the credit card charges since they aren't actually making the purchases themselves. It is necessary to remind them early on to check the balance of their credit card and look at the various charges that are made.

The 401(k) content and retirement planning are another challenge for a lot of our students. They have heard about retirement planning, but their first experience is the options and selections that Budget Challenge offers.

Are there any tips you can give to new teachers using Budget Challenge? 

I would download the teacher guide, vocabulary, and chapters and make them available to your students. I also believe that participating in the "Teacher Play" helps you understand what your students are being asked to do. Providing the students access or reminders that they have videos available to them to assist them individually is also helpful. I would often show the whole class a video and then remind them that they have access at any time to the videos.

Using the cash flow budget tool is very useful, but as a note, a student could cause an error in the spreadsheet and then the auto calculate may not work correctly, so I recommend that the teacher asks for the class to submit their cash flow three times and that students save their files. This is best if completed EARLY by the end of the first week after the sim begins. I have them fill in expected expenses for up to 5-6 weeks. It is also a great time to show them how their checking balance can be predicted when they pay more or less on their credit card or student loan.

The second submission would reflect actual charges and emphasize that the cash flow budget tool balance should match their checking account balance. This is usually the stage where students will find errors and they really start to understand how the cash flow budget tool is so useful. 

The final time they submit their cash flow statement is at the end of the simulation and it is pretty easy to check since teachers have access to all student balances. I just ask students to screenshot their checking balance and submit their spreadsheet on our learning management system so that I can verify the balances.

The other tip is to allow students to make errors so that they can learn from what they did or did not do. This is a learning tool and I want students to make their own decisions related to vendor selection, 401(k) contribution, and debt reduction. I give them all options and define/explain consequences, but ultimately, they must make all decisions. This is why I continue to use this learning tool in my Personal Finance class. I prefer to have it run through the first semester and then follow the content that is given in each chapter.

How has the opinion of Budget Challenge changed during the simulation?

Students are quite overwhelmed in the beginning and once they have paid some bills and set up their cash flow statement their opinions improve. By the end of the simulation, they feel quite accomplished!

Do you have a Budget Challenge story that is especially memorable? 

Last year, I had a group of three young ladies who were so competitive and since I allowed collaboration while taking the quizzes, they would discuss certain questions before actually answering. I remember after one of the tests, one of the three decided to stick to her own answer and she was so excited because she had a higher score than the other two girls. It was fun to see their friendly competitive spirit!  This class was also very excited when the leaderboard would change—they all wanted to be in the top ten!

Another memory was related to a student who just couldn't figure out why they kept getting charged the "over credit utilization" fee. They didn't understand that the amount of their credit card balance impacted their overall available credit. It was great to see the light bulb connect for them once they realized that there were ongoing charges being made daily and that they must carefully pay attention to their charges and try to pay the balance off each statement.